Bewitch Me, Why Don’t You?

bmwdyMelissa Joan Hart is the star of ABC’s hit series Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. Her mom, Paula, is the show’s executive producer and her daughter’s manager. So how do these two avoid the pushy stage mother/resentful daughter syndrome? “We grew up together,” says Melissa, drinking a tall glass of milk spiked with Slim-Fast in the kitchen of her mom’s sprawling Los Angeles hilltop home. Paula, sitting next to Melissa, nods her head in agreement.

Their lives in show business have been intertwined from the start. Paula, whose pixie face and high-octane personality belie the fact that she’s a 42-year-old mother of seven, has been Melissa’s manager for 18 years. And she’s heavily involved with Sabrina, which consistently ranks number one among kids in its 9:00 P.M. Friday time slot and is popular with parents as well. Melissa, 22, plays a typical teenager who just happens to be a witch. She casts spells by pointing her index finger–for example, turning a snobby schoolmate into a pineapple.

What’s it like for a mom to produce her daughter’s show? Paula says, “There are times when I have to put on my executive-producer hat and be the boss. But other times I’m there, for a hug, so it’s actually a nice balance.”

“Once in a while, we throw little fits,” Melissa adds. “You know, like, `That’s it. I quit.’ But mostly, we get along really well.”

When she was only 4, Melissa announced that she wanted to be only. At tire time, Paula wits a stay-at-home mother of three little girls (Melissa is the eldest, followed by Trisha and Elizabeth) on New York’s Long Island, married to a man who worked in a clam hatchery. More to the point, she knew nothing about show business, but she got the name of an agent from a friend. She’d never even been to Manhattan by herself, so when Melissa had her first audition there, “I bought myself a little street map, put Elizabeth in a front carrier, put Trisha in a back carrier, took Melissa by the hand, and got on the train. I was quite a sight.”

By the end of that summer, Melissa had booked 22 national commercials. Paula, meanwhile, discovered some unexpected talents of her own. “I had an eye for knowing which kids were going to work out,” she notes. So she started managing Melissa and, eventually, other aspiring child actors.

Her family was growing too–Brian was born in 1984, and Emily came along two years later. (All the Hart kids have acted at some point.) Then, in 1991, Melissa burst onto the TV screen playing the title role on Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All. The show won her legions of young fans and made her a household name.

When Melissa was 15, the Harts divorced, and Paula and thc kids moved to Manhattan. “I was really mad at her,” Melissa admits now. “I’d say, `This isn’t home.’ For two weeks, I did nothing but cry. Then I said, `Wow. This is New York City!'”

Because of Sabrina, the Harts shifted their base to Los Angeles in 1996. This summer Melissa has been spending most of her time decorating the Spanish-style house she shares with her boyfriend, actor James Fields. Although Paula remarried, and she and her husband have two small children, she and Melissa still spend plenty of time together–even when Sabrina is in hiatus. Here’s a young actress with her own gorgeous house and a hunky boyfriend, and she still wants to hang out with Mom? Maybe she’s under a spell herself!

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